All South Koreans to become younger as traditional age calculation system scrapped

Since the 1960s, South Korea has used a number of age systems (REUTERS)
Since the 1960s, South Korea has used a number of age systems (REUTERS)

South Koreans will become a year or two younger on official documents as the traditional method of counting ages is being scrapped in favour of the international standard.

Authorities passed laws on Thursday abolishing the national system, in which Koreans are deemed to be one year old when born and a year is added every January 1. This is the age most commonly cited in everyday life.

A separate system also exists for calculating the legal age to drink alcohol and smoke, and for conscription purposes, in which a person’s age is calculated from zero at birth and a year is added on January 1.

Since the early 1960s, however, South Korea has, for medical and legal documents, also used the international norm of calculating from zero at birth and adding a year on every birthday.

The confusing array of systems will disappear from June 2023 – at least on official documents – when the new laws come in that enforce using only the international method of counting ages.

“The revision is aimed at reducing unnecessary socio-economic costs because legal and social disputes, as well as confusion, persist due to the different ways of calculating age,” Yoo Sang-bum of the ruling People Power Party told parliament.

The change has massive backing from the public.

Surveys earlier in the year showed seven out of 10 adult respondents supported getting rid of the Korean age system. Forty per cent said the change would ease conflicts within the country’s social hierarchy.

Jeong Da-eun, a 29-year-old office worker, is happy about the change, saying she has always had to think twice when asked overseas about her age.

“I remember foreigners looking at me with puzzlement because it took me so long to come back with an answer on how old I was,” she said.

“Who wouldn’t welcome getting a year or two younger?” she added.

The traditional system has been criticised as dragging down a country that has otherwise adopted modern life.

Other Asian countries, including Japan and Vietnam, abandoned the Chinese-style age system amid an influx of Western culture.

It is especially difficult for babies born in December, who very quickly turn two years old on January 1 just days after their birth.